March 26, 2015 | Lauren FitzPatrick, Chicago Sun Times

U of C report: Most vulnerable CPS students still suspended at high rates

Chicago Public Schools are still disproportionately suspending the most vulnerable students — those with special needs or who struggle academically and African-American boys, though district suspension rates have dipped recently.

But a decline in out-of-school suspensions has come with a doubling of in-school-suspension rates among African-American high schoolers.

That’s according to a new report to be released Thursday by the the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research in which researchers examined discipline data available for district-run schools since 2008. Charter schools — publicly funded but privately managed — are not included because they aren’t required to report discipline to the district.

About 33 percent of African-American boys in high school were suspended in 2013-14 — vs. 13 percent of Latino boys and 6 percent of white and Asian boys.

Suspension rates also were high — at 24 percent for students with disabilities 27 percent for students with the lowest test scores, compared with 7 percent for those with the highest scores.

“This is a pretty interesting finding that students who are coming to school with the biggest gaps in terms of achievement — so those kids who are struggling the most — are also the most likely to miss school due to suspension,” co-author Lauren Sartain said.

That’s troubling because attendance is a strong predictor of academic success, she said.

About 60 percent of all high school suspensions in 2013-14 were for defiance or disruption — not violence, according to the report.

CPS changed its “Student Code of Conduct” in June as part of a national push away from “zero tolerance” punishments, removing “defiance” as reason alone to suspend and replacing the subjective word with descriptions of specific behaviors, CPS’ Aarti Dhupelia said. 

Dhupelia praised the drops in overall suspensions but couldn’t specify trends by academic performance. Numbers released late Wednesday showed that out-of-school suspension rates for special needs students trended downward, but still were at 41.1 per hundred students in 2013 and 29.3 per hundred in 2014.

Critics including the Chicago Teachers Union fear a “numbers game,” where the district substitutes one brand of discipline that removes students from classrooms for another.

CPS hasn’t given schools money for real restorative justice, which requires schoolwide training, someone to lead the program and an actual “peace room” space for the practices to play out, Brunson said.

That’s what’s been happening this year at Lincoln Park High School, partnering with Umoja Student Development Corporation.

The racially diverse high school has about 2,200 kids coming from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, Principal Michael Boraz said, adding, “All you need is one person who you don’t agree with, to have conflict.”

Umoja sent a moderator to train some school staffers in restorative justice practices and supervise a new “peace room.”